Today a stunning natural reserve, yesterday a high security prison: taking a tour on the Asinara means a deep immersion both in nature and in Italian history.
There are many ways to discover the island and we chose to explore it on a jeep, but you can do it by boat, by bike, on foot, with an electric car or on a wheeled train.
We met at 9:00 am at the Anchor Marina Arbour of Stintino and the guides of Asinara 4X4 led us by boat to the Fornelli Port. The ride with private boats lasts 10 minutes, with public ferries about 30. The ports of call are two: Fornelli (south) and Cala d'Oliva (east).
At the Port of Fornelli, where we landed, there are a bar, toilets and the jeeps parking.
JEEP, EQUIPMENT AND OTHER INFORMATION
On each Jeep (Land Rover Defender) there is space for the guide and 8 passengers. Obviously, the less you are, the more comfortable you will be, considering that every passenger has at least a backpack or a bag.
The seats in the back are those where you feel more the bumps in the dirt roads.
You have to bring your packed lunch and, since there will be time to relax on one of the beaches accessible to tourists, it is advisable to bring a beach towel and a swimsuit.
From time to time you get off the Jeep to visit buildings, see animals and cliffs and take pictures: it is advisable to wear comfortable clothes and shoes. During the summer the temperatures can be really hot, up to 40°. Take this into consideration when choosing what to wear and what to put in your backpack (drinks, hats, sunscreen).
Click on a picture to open the full photo gallery
The Asinara prison was divided into 11 branches scattered across the island. Founded as an agricultural penal colony, initially the prisoners had to cultivate the fields, take care of the cattle and provide everything that was necessary to the self sufficiency of the colony. Only during the Years of Lead it was turned into a high security prison, with isolation bunkers.
The first stop of the tour is usually the Fornelli branch, where the prisoners were Red Brigades terrorists, Sardinian kidnapping bandits or Mafia bosses.
Walking through the cells, especially in the bunker, you have the impression of losing the space-time connection and to be in a non-place.
Matteo Boe, a Sardinian bandit, was the only one able to escape from this prison, in 1986, on a boat and with the help of his wife. However we have to say that, at that time, Asinara was no longer a high security prison.
THE CHURCH OF THE ARABS
Called “The church of the Arabs” for the shape of its windows, this small sacred building reminds one of the dramatic events of the First World War. The Asinara was at that time designated port of destination for 23,379 Austro-Hungarian prisoners, 4,574 of which died from typhus and cholera once arrived on the island.
Captured by the Serbian army, they crossed the Balkans and arrived on foot to Albania, where they were sent to Sardinia by boat, hungry, sick and emaciated. At the Asinara they arrived in a terrible state, 100 of them died every day, so that mass graves had to be dug in the area around the church (later also called “The church of the Poles”).
The Asinara island is dotted with wonderful coves. Some of these shield such special ecosystem that the access is forbidden to anyone but scientists and coastguard. In a sense, being home to a high security prison saved Asinara from overbuilding and excessive tourist exploitation, granting its preservation.
Some coves are only accessible from the sea, while others are open to the tourists who can stop there for a bath, a snack or a few hours of relax.
For about an hour, we were completely alone in a corner of paradise. Undoubtedly, choosing June to make this experience helped us to find neither too hot, nor too many people.
Like Fornelli, Cala d'Oliva is a tourism port.
The watchtower on the top dates back to 1611, when the Aragonese used this point to control the sea.
When, in 1855, the King decided to evacuate the 500 inhabitants (Sardinian shepherds and Ligurian fishermen) to dedicate the land to another use, Cala d'Oliva became the headquarters of the prison, but also an important maritime quarantine station, where the patients were confined to recover from malaria, tuberculosis, cholera and other infectious diseases.
Today there is a project that would transform Cala d'Oliva in a “Spread Hotel”, to develop a form of tourism compatible with the conservation of historical and natural heritage.
FLORA AND FAUNA
The Asinara is famous for the albino donkeys that live and breed there despite the sun that shines here most of the year, probably making their life a little more difficult than somewhere else. As well as the goats and the wild boars, the donkeys are wild and the man takes care of them only in case of need.
Among the birds, we can mention the Corsican Seagull, the Shag, the Berta, the Barbary Partridge.
The smell of the vegetation is amazing, especially in spring. Here the Mediterranean scrubland is full of Centaurea horrida, Limonium, Euphorbia and helichrysum.